Can Injured Workers Collect from Third Parties?

On top of workers’ compensation insurance benefits, injured employees may collect from third parties who are liable for the accident. If an injured worker is convinced that his or her injury was caused or aggravated by the negligent actions of a third-party, he or she can hold the third-party liable for the costs involved in treating the injury, along with lost earnings, pain, and emotional distress.

Third-Party Negligence

Workers’ compensation is deemed to be a no-fault arrangement that enables an injured worker to collect costs and lost wages while not filing a lawsuit against employers. The injured worker, however, is allowed to sue third parties and file workers’ compensation concurrently. Third-party liability occurs when the negligent actions of someone other than the employer caused an accident at work. For instance, if a worker slips and falls on a wet surface and sustains a head or back injury, he or she could seek workers’ compensation and sue the cleaning service provider for failing to caution others that the surface was wet.

Third-party claims arise more frequently on construction sites where several individuals, such as contractors, architects, plumbers, and electricians, all work separately within the same site. If an employee suffers a leg injury due to scaffolding collapse, he or she has the right to sue the scaffolding company for carelessly constructing it while still claiming workers’ comp. Other third parties whose negligent actions may result in accidents at work include manufacturers, suppliers, and sellers of faulty or dangerous products, non-employer site supervisors, contractors, and rental companies.

Proving Fault

Under a workers’ compensation system, the injured worker doesn’t need to prove the negligence of his or her employer to qualify for compensation. Instead, the worker just needs to prove that he or she was injured on the job. For third-party liability claims, however, the worker must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accident happened due to the negligence of another party. The injured employee must demonstrate that:

  • The third-party owed a duty of care to him or her;
  • The third-party violated that duty through careless or negligent behavior;
  • He or she suffered an injury due to the violation; and
  • He or she suffered losses in form of lost wages, emotional distress, pain, or disability because of the injury.

An injured party gets a valuation of compensation for the injuries sustained only when negligent behavior has been demonstrated. However, there is an exception for cases that involve manufacturers who design and manufacture faulty products. In such cases, an injured worker may file a strict liability claim where the liable parties can be held legally responsible through proof of the availability of an error that caused the injury.

Once an injured worker lodges a third-party claim, a court proceeding may be held to establish what proportion of the liability should go to the employer and what proportion should go to the third-party. This enables the employer to be repaid by the third-party the money already collected by the injured employee in workers’ compensation.